The Strathfarrar Four Plus Tops

9 06 2011

Fri 27 May 2011

As we were unsure of the likelihood of getting into Strathfarrar with the 25 car limit we came to two conclusions… one was that we needed to go there on the Friday instead of on the weekend as there would be less people around. The second was that we should be early, so our normal 10 or 1030am start wouldn’t do. I decided we needed to arrive at the gate between 0815 and 0830.

We looked out of our chalet window at around 0730 and it was reasonably clear and fairly sunny – it was very windy though. It wasn’t a great forecast however… Just before 0800 we were in the car heading for the village of Struy where the locked gate was situated at the glen entrance. We arrived just before 0830 and lined up at the gate. Within a couple of minutes, the lady in the gate cottage had come out and asked us not to park in the gateway but to go and park in the carpark. We’d seen the carpark as we passed but thought it was just for folks who were leaving their cars there and cycling up the glen or suchlike. Also, as the gate was locked until 0900, I didn’t see how we were blocking anyone’s way into the glen. I also asked her what would happen about the queuing system and what would happen if twenty-five cars managed to reach the gate before us? She said not to worry about the car limit so we dutifully went off and parked the car just inside the carpark.

At 0853 prompt, four cars in very quick succession zoomed past us and lined up neatly in front of the gate – it all looked very rehearsed to us! I started the Polo and we shot out of the carpark just as yet more cars were arriving to queue up. The lady came out and no doubt told them they shouldn’t have lined up at the gate but she couldn’t really get a queue of cars to reverse and so surprisingly, she gave in, opened the gate early and let them through. She did say she was ‘sorry about them’ to us when she issued our entrance ticket. Anyway, despite me being characteristically miffed, as Richard pointed out at least now we would see where the unmarked carpark was up the glen. I have to admit though that I had to have a bit of a dig at the guy we passed at the start of the walk as he’d got out of one of the offending cars.

It’s several miles up the glen to the parking area but we were parked up, booted up and setting off by about 0925. On the drive up the glen, we’d been musing about which way round we should do the round. I said it was always done anti-clockwise and that was the way we were going as that would mean tackling the mountains at the start of the walk and finishing with the four mile yomp back down the glen road. I did realise that would be taking us into the strong westerly wind all the way along the main ridge though. Richard thought we should do it the other way round. We were still debating while we put our boots on and watching what everyone else did. Most people seemed to go for clockwise round but many of them had brought bikes and some were just dropping them off at the far end. One set of folks were so organised they had two cars between them so wouldn’t have to do the glen road as part of their walk at all!

We set off on a landrover track which zig-zagged up the hillside into the side glen above. The track was great but, as soon as it finished, we were left with the expected boggy, grassy track for the next couple of miles to the foot of our first hill, Sgor na Ruaidhe. I thought that things would dry out when we started up the south-west ridge – unfortunately they didn’t. By the time we started off up the hill we were in the lead and going pretty well – but it was a very long squelch up to the summit. As the top of the hill was more or less in view all the way up it seemed quite a long climb and wasn’t very interesting. I never really mind that as, to me, uninteresting is also straightforward, and the way I prefer my hills thankyou. Richard just finds such things really dull…

3rd Munro Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais from 1st Ascent

The summit was bitterly cold so we didn’t hang around. Richard put all his outer clothing on bar his waterproof trousers, I put my buff, fleece and gloves on and we set off down the back of the hill. The descent was an absolute delight – really springy and mossy and very easy on the legs. In not many minutes we were on the col where I decided full waterproofs were the order of the day just to beat the windchill. Now both fully togged up, we set off up the very easy slope to the second Munro of Carn nan Gobhar. This was grassy until the summit dome and then it was boulders so we had to watch our footing, especially with the gusty wind putting us off balance.

Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais and Carn nan Gobhar from 1st Munro

After quickly visiting the summit, we hastened off towards our third Munro – a much steeper looking affair. We knew we had a long day and it was pretty cold so we didn’t intend to hang around much. There was a long, level ridge and then a very easy descent to another bealach and we began the long and steep climb up the pleasantly narrow nose of Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais. Just short of the summit (and the snowline and more boulders) we stopped for a short break to have a coffee and a quick bite. Richard said he wasn’t feeling great so I urged him to eat something with his warm drink but he wouldn’t – he just wanted to get going. I bolted my hard-boiled egg down and guzzled my coffee but then couldn’t get going for a minute or two as I’d given myself severe indigestion! A minute or so later I was feeling better and we continued.

Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais Ascent Ridge

By now, we’d started to meet descending walkers doing the round in the opposite direction so they were obviously going a bit quicker than us – I thought we’d made pretty good time and we were still just ahead of the book time. The last guy stopped to chat with us and pleasantly told us that we were just getting to the best part of the round scenically. I told him I’d been looking forward to the next peak of Sgurr Fuar-Thuill and its tops all day as I’d seen the photos and it looked beautiful. It was lucky I’d seen the photos really as I never saw the actual peaks! Just as we reached the summit of Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais, the cloud swirled up to meet us and all views disappeared.

There were two cairns and a trig point on the summit and we weren’t sure which was the true summit so we visited them all. We also weren’t sure from which point on the summit the descent ridge started. We peered at the map and peered into the mist but there were no clues forthcoming. In the end, I just set my compass for the direction we wanted and we set off. The boulders on the descent were big and fierce and much care had to be taken. As we finally exited the boulders we then met quite a large, deep patch of snow which Richard characteristically tried to avoid but couldn’t. The mist had cleared a bit however and we could see our next flat ridge.

The wind had by now either increased greatly in force or we were more exposed to it. We occasionally got glimpses of the climb ahead onto the top of Creag Gorm a’ Bhealaich and could see there was quite a craggy face on the right-hand side – just the way the wind was blowing – it was now sleeting and hailing as well.

The descent to the bealach wasn’t very far this time and the climb up Creag Gorm a’ Bhealaich seemed very short to me. I thought Richard was starting to tire though – either that or he was just fed up now there was no view. By the summit of the top it had become horribly windy and the hail was really battering us – Richard now looked thoroughly fed up. We battled our way across a short and easy descent and reascent to the Munro summit of Sgurr Fuar-Thuill. I stopped and shouted across the gale to Richard that I still wanted to do the top of Sgurr na Fearstaig and asked whether he was going to wait somewhere on the descent or whether I just had to catch him up – I said I was assuming he wouldn’t want to do it. He said he certainly didn’t but that he’d wait somewhere sheltered. However, when we found the cairn at the start of the stalker’s track we would need for descent, I thought I could see the top very near at hand in the mist. I told him that and persuaded him to come along with me to visit it.

It wasn’t quite the bit I’d seen looming out of the mist but was only really a few yards further on across easy ground. The peak I’d seen looming was actually a narrow and rocky arête, thankfully with only a very small drop to more level grass on the side the wind was trying to hurl us. It was pretty tricky to get across it though and we had to cling to the rocks all the way across it. After a very quick visit to the cairn we decided to miss out the rocky arête and go along the grass on the lee side of it for our return. It was so calm and sheltered there we decided to have another quick break and get a warm drink.

We then rushed back to the marker cairn and dashed off down the start of the stalker’s path. I have to say that the top of the corrie which it contoured was so steep that I was a bit perturbed, especially with the wind plucking at us, so I slowed right down and walked very cautiously until we got much lower down and passed the steep bits. We were soon on much easier ground and I relaxed again and got up to my normal speed. It was a very long walk back down the stalker’s track to the road and one section was very wet indeed. The long, wet walk was brightened by the waterfalls we were passing and a loch with a lovely little beach in the corrie.

We eventually emerged onto the road into bright sunshine and clearing weather – typical. We stopped to remove our waterproofs and draped them all, inside out, about our persons – we looked a bit like either tramps or mobile clothes airers. We’re not proud though… We had another quick break and then set off down the road through the very pleasant glen.

I have to say that I found the four mile walk back down the glen definitely the hardest part of the walk and we wished we’d brought bikes but that section of the glen is very pretty. We passed a huge herd of deer grazing across the river on beautiful lawn-like grass. Several walkers’ cars passed us and I have to admit we both wished they’d stop and offer us a lift – but we’re too proud to stick out our thumbs. No-one stopped so we plodded on.

In just over an hour of road walking the lovely sight of the Polo hove into view. I looked at my watch and remarked to Richard that I don’t see how people do the round in winter as the glen gate is shut at 1700 and the walking is much harder and slower (the entry time is always 0900). We were only just getting back to the car at 1800 and we didn’t leave through the gate until 1825 – the gate is locked in May at 1900! We didn’t think we’d been dawdling either.

Stats: 15.5 miles, 5313 feet of ascent, 8 hours




2 responses

9 06 2011
Janet F

Lovely photos of the deer, MC 🙂


9 06 2011

Blimey – you were quick reading that one – I’ve only just put it out! 🙂


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